With the 2018 Senior Bowl now behind us I suppose it’s finally time for me to release my first Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft of the offseason so here it is below for you in all of its glory.
I used the Fanspeak simulator for my first offering in order to get somewhat of an idea as to which players might be available in each of the rounds. I have included my goals for this first mock draft ahead of the selections and also included a summary. As usual, I ask that you focus on the individual players I selected for the Steelers while critiquing this mock draft instead of the rounds they were taken in. Tell what you like and dislike about each of the players I have mocked to the Steelers and which players you would have selected instead.
Goals entering this mock draft: Using a simulator obviously constricts me but being as it’s way early in the draft season it’s probably best to use one. I made it a goal of mine to address the inside linebacker and safety positions in the first two rounds of this mock as those two positions are obviously the biggest perceived needs for the Steelers this offseason, From rounds three and on, however, I wanted to go after the best player available that I believe not only fits what the Steelers look for in players, but also addresses my perceived needs for the team at the running back, wide receiver, and defensive tackle positions. Additionally, I wanted to also double up at the inside linebacker position and safety positions should the value present itself.
Here is the link to my Fanspeak mock draft that I did Tuesday evening so you can see who was off the board when I picked in each and every round.
Round 1 – Pick No. 28 Overall – ILB Rashaan Evans – Alabama – By now, I’m sure that most all of you know who Evans is. The athletic and hard hitting Alabama product figures to be a first-round selection this year and several speculate he might just fall to the Steelers. Should that happen, he will be a hard player to pass up and especially with the future of current inside linebacker Ryan Shazier up in the air right now. Evans recorded 152 total tackles in his four seasons at Alabama with 23.5 of them resulting in lost yardage. He was credited with 15 sacks and 5 pass breakups. The Steelers haven’t drafted an Alabama player since 1998 and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why that is. Regardless, Evans seemingly checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to him potentially being the Steelers first-round draft pick this year and that includes him being a captain at the college level.
Round 2 – Pick No, 60 Overall – SS Kyzir White – West Virginia – Ideally I was hoping to get a tall rangy free safety at this spot but with Penn State product Marcus Allen already off the board, I decided to go with White, a strong safety, linebacker hybrid player. White, the younger brother of Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White, measured in at the Senior Bowl at 6021, 216-pounds. He played the spur position (think moneybacker) the last two seasons at West Virginia and recorded 152 total tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 total pass breakups. It’s possible that the second round might be too early for White but I wanted to secure a top-rated safety as four had already been selected by the simulator. I can wait to look deeper into his college tape and watch him showcase his athleticism at the scouting combine.
Round 3 – Pick No. 93 Overall – ILB Leighton Vander Esch – Boise State – Even though I had already spent a draft pick on an inside linebacker I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to add Vander Esch in the third round as the Steelers could certainly use another productive player at that position based on their current depth chart. While not as athletic as Evans, Vander Esch is a physical player like the Alabama player and especially when playing downhill. He would probably be best suited to play the buck position and could eventually be a starter in his second season. In the meantime, he could potentially serve as a depth player and core special teams player along with current Steelers inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich. In the 32 games that Vander Esch played at Boise State he registered 188 total tackles of which 62 of them resulted in lost yardage. He also had 4 interceptions to go along with 5 sacks and 5 pass breakups.
Round 5 – Pick No. 150 Overall – RB Kalen Ballage – Arizona State – Ballage, as our very own Alex Kozora has already pointed out a few times over the course of the last few weeks, appears to be one of just a few all-purpose running backs in this years draft class. In fact, based on all of the hype he’s already received so far this offseason, I was surprised that Ballage was still on the board come the Steelers selection in the fifth round in this mock. The Arizona State product rushed for almost 2,000 yards on 450 total carries during his college career and had 27 rushing touchdowns. Additionally, Ballage caught 82 passes for another 684 yards and two touchdowns in the 47 games that he played in. Obviously, if the Steelers wind up signing running back Le’Veon Bell to a long term contract extension prior to this year’s draft the running back position becomes more of a luxury pick. Even so, last year’s third round draft pick, James Conner, went down with a knee injury during his rookie season and thus has yet to show he can be counted on to be a dependable backup behind Bell. In short, there’s no real guarantee that the Steelers will draft a running back this year.
Round 5 – Pick No. 167 Overall – FS Trayvon Henderson – Hawaii – Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn about Henderson, who recorded 237 total tackles in the 49 games he played at Hawaii. As far as mid-round free safety types go, however, Henderson seems like he could potentially fit the bill for the Steelers after a quick glimpse at his tape from last season. At the Senior Bowl he measured in at 6001, 204-pounds and reportedly showed well in Mobile, AL against top competition. He recorded 9 interceptions during his college career in addition to having 13 total pass breakups. Henderson is one of several players I look forward to learning a lot more about prior to this years scouting combine. The Steelers could obviously use a safety or two in this year’s draft.
Round 7 – Pick No. 220 Overall – WR Jester Weah – Pittsburgh – Personally, I will be surprised if the Steelers dont ultimately select a wide receiver at some point during this year’s draft. Additionally, I suspect they’ll look for a tall and speedy wide receiver this year to possibly succeed current wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who is about to enter the final year of his contract. Enter Weah, a 6-3, 210-pound wide receiver who played his last two years of college football at Pittsburgh. A former track competitor who was a state champion sprinter in Wisconsin, Weah registered 77 receptions for 1,570 yards and 14 touchdowns over the course of the last two seasons. While he’s still a very raw player, Weah shows good physicality in his play. He would perhaps make a good first pupil for new Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. Being as he played his college football at Pittsburgh, the Steelers should already know quite a bit about Weah.
Round 7 – Pick No. 246 Overall – DT P.J. Hall – Sam Houston State – With defensive tackle Daniel McCullers not expected to be back in 2018, the Steelers could use another young defensive tackle that can play the nose in the base 3-4 defense behind starter Javon Hargrave. As far as potential late-round prospects this year go that just might fit the bill, Hall might be one of them. In the 57 games that Hall played at Sam Houston State, the large defensive tackle registered 280 total tackles of which a whopping 85.5 of then resulted in lost yardage. He also recorded 36.5 sacks and 29 pass breakups and even intercepted 4 passes.
Summary: As far as post Senior Bowl mocks go, I rarely get excited with my selections as I am just starting to scratch the surface when it comes to familiarizing myself with as many players as I can in a short period of time due to me having to focus mainly on the Steelers throughout the season. Do I really think the Steelers will ultimately double up at the inside linebacker and safety positions this year? Not really, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they did as it’s obvious that those two positions need the most attention this offseason. In my next mock draft, which will likely be posted just prior to the scouting combine getting underway, I’ll have a better idea as to what the Steelers might do with Bell and his contract situation as well as outside linebacker Bud Dupree and his fifth-year option. Come that time I might dump the running back position and mock an outside linebacker instead. I really dont foresee myself mocking a cornerback, tight end or quarterback to the Steelers this offseason unless something changes at those positions in the coming weeks.